King Parrots, A Poem by Alan Gould

The king parrots have returned to the Blue Mountains, working their way through trees bearing fruit. Recently I arrived home to find half a dozen of them picking off the small fruit on a plum tree. They are bold in colour and temperament, and are charming despite the destruction. This poem expresses what it is like to have a visitation.

They’ve arrived.

That’s all I am allowed to know.

Four, no six, they have materialised

 

trembling on the Mexican Hawthorn

as though the tree had just devised them,

six startling orchids,

 

or six jocund rascals, outrageous

in their green or crimson balaclavas

and crimson pantaloons,

 

tucking away their conifer wings,

eating with greedy disdain

like babies or commit strip bandidos.

 

My lawn is rubbished with half-eaten crimson berries.

Vandals. Solferino angels:

how can my eye stray while they remian

 

in creaturely candelabra

on a sky of nursery blue.

It’s like a siege.

 

One cocks its head, as though to say,

‘Don’t worry. We are too brilliant to be real,’

then goes on eating from my tree.

 

They’re gone. The branch skitters into stillness.

And I could spend a year behind this glass

longing for their return.

ALAN GOULD

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Female Australian king parrot

[Header photo: male king parrot about to take off with some fruit]

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Cicada Days

As a harbinger of warmer days to come, it’s hard to go past the cicada. It might be due to the combination of a dry winter and a warm start to spring but in recent weeks there have been discarded cicada shells all over the place. Fence posts, brick walls, tree trunks – all are seemingly dotted with husks, cast aside as cicadas move on to their final phase of life. During the day the air often thrums with their calls. Usually camouflaged by leaves, they are hard to spot unless being chased around the neighbourhood by hungry birds.

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After the countdown, they go over the top, grey shapes in the grey dawn, clambering out of themselves (Cicadas by David Campbell)

Cicadas were captured as temporary trophies when I was a kid, with a league ladder of varieties according to scarcity. The common Greengrocer wasn’t given much weighting; Yellow Mondays were a bit harder to find, Black Prince cicadas were highly sought, along with the noisy Double Drummer. The cicadas would be brought to school in ice cream containers with holes punched into the lids, to be admired and swapped before the cicadas were released.

There are Miller or Floury Baker cicadas, covered in fine, silvery hairs. I haven’t seen a Cherrynose cicada, but they are meant to be more common on the coast. There are Red-eyes along with smaller varieties such as Fairy, Maiden and Midget.

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A shell on the left, a cicada getting ready to emerge on the right

It is mainly the male cicada who sings by flexing their tymbals which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens. They drink and eat using their beak or rostrum, and begin life as an egg embedded in a tree limb. When the egg hatches, the ant-like form falls to the ground and digs until it finds roots to feed on. Cicadas can remain underground for anywhere up to 17 years, according to the species. It is an active life spent feeding and tunnelling.

As nymphs, they return above ground and climb the nearest tree to shed their exoskeleton. Their wings inflate and their bodies harden. They search for a mate with males singing to attract females, and the cycle begins again. As an adult they have a short life, usually only a few weeks.

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Greengrocer

There are over 3,300 varieties around the world, and a couple of unusual Australian cicadas are the Blue Moon and Bagpipe Cicada.

There is a lovely poem about cicadas by David Campbell here.

Do you have cicadas in your backyard?

Main source of information on cicadas: Cicada Mania web page. It is brilliant – hover over a link and the mouse arrow turns into a cicada!

[Photo: Greengrocer cicada]

A Day at the Faire

It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to wander around a medieval themed fair in Sydney, and the fourth annual St Ives Medieval Faire was too good to resist.

A chance to wander into the 14th century

A chance to wander into the 14th century

Located at the St Ives Showground, the entry to the faire was through mock castle gates with a drawbridge providing access to the grounds. There were market stalls selling all sorts of wares from serious looking swords to plastic shields for the kids. There were lots of activities for kids to enjoy, from puppet shows to combat training and tips on being a jester. There was even a collection of medieval pets.

One of the many groups gathered around the faire grounds

One of the many groups gathered around the faire grounds

There were various demonstrations including archery, a trebuchet catapult and birds of prey. The birds included falcons and an Australian barking owl.

Birds of Prey featuring the Barking Owl

Birds of Prey featuring the Barking Owl

There were medieval villages set up with fires burning under cooking pots and tents set up with all the relative comforts of home, in another time.

Medieval village area

Medieval village area

One of the highlights was the number of people dressed up to represent various roles in a medieval village, from servants to knights, lords and ladies. There was a sense of acceptance, a good-natured vibe that permeated throughout the crowd. For the serious enthusiasts and the interested observers, there was something for everyone at the faire.

Have you ever wandered around a medieval faire?

[Photo: glimpse inside one of the many tents]

A Little Bush Wander

Recently I had a short wander through a small section of the extensive Blue Mountains National Park. This park is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, which covers nearly a million acres from the outskirts of western Sydney to the central tablelands, right through the upper edges of the Blue Mountains. The main park entrances are at Glenbrook, Wentworth Falls and Blackheath. My group wander started at the base of the mountains at Glenbrook.

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Canopy of gum trees

There are a myriad of tracks and avenues for exploration from this entrance, and the wander started from the Euroka campground, a popular camping and picnic spot. It is a lovely space with kangaroos, kookaburras and cockatoos in abundance and obviously at ease with the flocks of people who come and go.

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Grey gum scarred by sugar gliders

Appreciating some of the flora in this part of the park was the purpose of the wander. Whilst I can identify common plants and trees, the specifics of large plant groups such as eucalyptus trees largely elude me. To be fair, there are over 700 species. During the wander there were many grey gums, including some marked by sugar gliders as they sought access to the sap. One of the ways to differentiate between eucalyptus trees is by the shape of the gumnuts.

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Flowering wattle

Wattles also have a huge number of varieties, and their bright blooms make them easily identifiable. Close inspection revealed various insects living off the blossoms.

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Close up of casuarina tree

Yellow and red bloodwoods were scattered along the walk, as were blueberry ash and casuarinas. The casuarina, also known as she-oak, is a large and graceful tree, known for the gentle rustling sound of breeze through its leaves. There were many smaller plants and masses of ferns including thick patches of maidenhair fern.

Eastern Rosellas

Eastern Rosellas near their nest

Above and around us were many birds, from the bossy strut of sulphur crested cockatoos at one of the picnic sites, to the blue flash of kookaburras flying past. A pair of eastern rosellas were spotted nesting in a gum tree, and a pair of Australian wood ducks were perched on a tree branch. A family of wood ducks were seen on the way out with seven fluffy ducklings – a fitting end to a lovely wander through the bush.

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A family of Australian wood ducks

When was the last time you were able to go for a bush wander?

[Photo: one of the kangaroos resting near the camping ground]

What My Mind Gets Up To When I’m Busy

Recently I’ve been going through a period when it seems like work and other hefty matters have been dominating my time. This used to generate a restless sense of frustrated creativity, but this time it isn’t the case. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that whilst my mind has been occupied with logical matters, my senses have continued to gather stimuli, with and without my mind’s conscious engagement.

Here are some of the ways in which my senses have been working overtime lately.

Sight

  • Marvelling at the unfolding of spring in the mountains. So many beautiful blooms to enjoy as daylight minutes start to flex and stretch with the promise of longer days to follow.

Taste

  • The crisp tang of melons, pineapple and other fruits of the warmer months beginning to appear in fresh food stores.

Hear

  • Bright and buoyant bird calls, a welcome soundtrack to morning walks and a fitting way to mark the passing of another day.

Touch

  • This time of year I find it impossible not to potter about in the garden, even if I’m mainly picking up sticks and bark that has been scattered about by the August winds. There is something so elemental about having time in the garden.

Smell

  • It is hard to go past any tree or shrub in blossom as spring approaches. A particular delight is the heady fragrance of blooming trees of a night – their scent is all the more surprising and seems somehow stronger then.

Is your mind busy absorbing the world around you, even while you are caught up with other matters?

[Photo: spring blossoms]

 

 

On Looking Up

If your spirits are low, go for a walk. Hear the morning chorus, watch as magpies squawk and squabble overhead. Listen to the smooth notes of a currawong from high up in a gum tree, and watch a squadron of parrots chasing each other before feasting on seeds in the pine trees.

On a good day there will be at least one kookaburra chortling away. Way up high there is the frantic screech of a white cockatoo, seldom alone and usually part of a rowdy, wheeling mob. A red flash as the compact bodies of rosellas, one of the shyer birds, fly by. Wattle birds feast on the nectar of native shrubs, their sombre grey and white plumage contrasting with their red neck wattles and the dash of yellow on their bellies.

Look up and see a beautiful butterfly, camouflaged against the heritage paint of an old building. Look around and see the blur of a bright brown rabbit, tucked in against the edge of long grass along the roadside. And a white horse sitting down in a paddock, its stillness a contrast to the movement around it.

Learning to look up has been one of the most rewarding lessons of my life.

How often do you look up?

[Photo: a red wattle bird]

Monday Moments: Bird’s Eye View

Cockatoos would have to be one of the least-bothered birds I’ve come across. Perhaps it is because they are usually wheeling about in large, raucous numbers, but even when spotted on their own they tend to hold their ground and show little concern for what humans might be doing around them. This one was spotted as part of a larger flock dotted throughout a chestnut tree, having a lovely time snacking. They are well-known for razing food sources, chewing away until there is nothing left.

Cockatoo in chestnut tree

Cockatoo in chestnut tree

Kookaburras are my favourite bird. A small family of them were spotted by chance during a recent trip to Wiseman’s Ferry in Sydney’s north. Their solid little bodies look too heavy for their feet but in flight they are swift and graceful. They have very sharp beaks and are fierce hunters in the bush.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

I had chatted with a pair of emus in the Hartley Valley back when I was doing the I Spy quest. Apart from their beautiful brown eyes and inquisitive natures, I had been taken by the deep clucking sound that they make. They are so used to people stopped to say hello that they approached me without concern to see if I had anything interesting to offer.

Emu

Emu

One of my books from childhood had a rainbow lorikeet on the cover, and it still amazes me how vibrant their colours are. This one, spotted in a suburban back yard, was feasting on a large shrub in-between rain squalls.

Rainbow lorikeet

Rainbow lorikeet

King parrots got a mention recently when I was listening to background noises. They are another bird who will look you in the eye as they chew away on whatever is currently in season. This one was perched up high in a pine tree and I could hear it chomping away before I could spot it, even with the bright plumage.

King parrot

King parrot

Last but not least is this magpie, watching me closely whilst perched on a bench seat.

Magpie

Magpie

Have you spotted anything lately from a bird’s-eye view?

A Summer Storm

Storms are a fairly common occurrence during summer in the mountains. This summer has been notable for series of days of above average temperatures, pressure and temperatures building until a storm breaks.

The weather forecast included a reference to the chance of an afternoon storm. Early on in the day this seemed optimistic at best – bright blue skies with the odd white cloud. But the heat continued to spiral and the air took on the stinging quality of a hot day.

Low rumbles on the horizon provided the briefest of warnings as birds started to screech and scurry off to more protected locations. Then the storm hit with ferocity – heavy rain that beat with gusto upon the roof, the tin reverberating with the intensity of the drops. Faster and louder, still the rain bucketed down. The gutters poured litres into the rainwater tank until it too overflowed with the heavy influx.

A brief reprieve then it was back, a brittle edge to the rain now. Not quite hail but it was a close call. Thunder continued to rumble around in a panoramic fashion. A spike of lightning offered the briefest warning before the whole house shook with the growl of noise.

Then, just as quickly as it started, it stopped. Trees heavy with moist leaves held still until the next gust of wind released some of the rain in a torrent of drops. The sky still grey and glowering, as if undecided as to whether it was quite done yet. The clouds seemed to drift off as quickly as they had gathered.

The noise of the storm was replaced by the screeching of scores of black cockatoos, wheeling across the sky as they headed for a few tall gum trees. I watched as they flew along, shouting as if to scold the sky, before they settled atop several trees. More calling out and chiacking as they fluffed out feathers, momentarily looking like large feathered fruit before taking to the wing again.

What are summer storms like in your part of the world?

[Photo: yellow-tailed black cockatoos perched high in a gum tree after a storm]

In Stillness: A Photographic Exhibition @ Everglades, Leura

It was one of those days when it would be so easy to stay at home. The weather was undecided, and then the skies darkened, a large storm approaching at speed. I waited until the worst of it was over before heading out, still feeling like it might have been a good call to stay put.

In driving rain I made my way to Everglades at Leura. I’d spotted a notice for a photography exhibition called ‘In Stillness‘ with the following blurb:

The photographs exhibited each draw on the essence of the Irish proverb, “In stillness, the world is restored”. The concept of stillness is explored by each photographer in their own way, with works ranging from monumental mountain landscapes to exquisite native birdlife to impressionistic interpretations of the landscape. The breadth of style and subject matter will give visitors to the exhibition a chance to join with the photographers in experiencing the concept of stillness in a myriad of forms.

There are three photographers exhibiting work: Louise Bishop, Fiona Huddleston and Dilshara Hill. Each photographer has an overall theme and style, but the work is complementary and creates the sense of stillness that it promises.

Winter is the setting for Bishop’s work, a time of ‘waiting, conserving, decaying and surviving’. The intrinsic stillness of this time of year, inherent in nature, is demonstrated in a myriad of forms including the nakedness of nature in winter. Decay is evident too, illustrated in landscapes and through dilapidated buildings. The quality of light itself is different in winter, and this too is captured in the work. Animals and landscapes feature throughout the photos, with a variety of textures and filters used for different effects. I particularly enjoyed the following: Sunrise, Kanimbla Valley; Once a Home, Hartley; and Winter, North Yorkshire Dales. The Hartley home is one that I have spotted on the Mid Hartley Road. I have also wondered at the lives that echoed within the old house.

Trees are the defining element of Fiona Huddleston’s photographs. They are identified as symbols of life, wisdom, strength and knowledge, amongst other things. Each part of the plant is revered: root, stem, leaf, trunk, branch. In her overview, Huddleston writes that her aim is to ‘endeavour to see rather than just look and to express rather than just capture’. Her exhibit is stunning in its range, with the works offering both depth and transparency. Tree of Contemplation, Tree of Connection and Tree of Imagination stood out for me, particularly with the gold highlights. It made me think differently about something that I see everyday.

Native birds feature in Dilshara Hill’s photographs. Her aim is to capture the world around her, recording the beauty in landscape and nature, and she hopes her work encourages and inspires others. The birds are captured in a striking array of poses: in bird baths, gracefully gripping grevillea, poised to take nectar from a camellia. And the range is broad: rainbow lorikeets, eastern spinebills, pelicans (a personal favourite), brolgas and zebra finches amongst others. The silvereye stood out, along with a clutch of fairy-wrens and an eastern yellow robin. But for me the showstopper was the gang-gang cockatoo, captured with a cheeky, over the shoulder look. I smile whenever I think of it.

There are prints and cards of some of the work available for sale, in addition to the exhibition pieces. When I wandered through, one of the photographers was there, providing an overview along with a friendly welcome. It was such a treat.

As I headed back through the mist-cloaked gardens of the Everglades, my mind was abuzz, filled with the wonderful images I had seen. Definitely worth leaving the house for.

Everglades Gardens Gallery, 5 – 27 November 2016, Wed – Sun 11 am – 3 pm.

[Photo: pool at Everglades as mist rolls in]

 

A Late Winter Walk

Whilst this winter hasn’t been particularly harsh, it seems as though it is finally beginning to relinquish its hold. This is no guarantee that remnants of winter won’t linger on for months, or make surprise appearances such as snow in October, but there is definitely more than a hint of spring in the mountain air.

The incremental lengthening of sunlight, day by day, helps winter to recede. There has been a run of days with more sunlight than rain, and plants are responding by sending out shoots, forming buds and generally bracing themselves for spring. The high temperatures during the day are reaching double digits. Frosts are still in occurrence but they are less frequent and their intensity is diminished.

A late afternoon walk around my neighbourhood further fuelled my suspicions. Daffodils are out, their bright yellow heads nodding politely in the breeze. Camellias are still blooming, their graceful branches weighted down by white, pink and magenta flowers. I brushed past a hedge bristling with daphne blooms, a sensory delight. Lavender plants are sending up spikes, a portent of perfume to follow. The fruit trees are budding, new growth sprouting along the branches. There are flower beds with pansies and violas and calendulas, and daisy bushes are starting to open their bright faces to the sun. Early bristles of hebe plants provide a soft flush of colour against foliage. There are bright flares of wattle in flower, always heartening to see. Rhododendron trees are studded with tightly budded flowers, ready to unfurl. Some early starters are out already, delicate petals with splashes of colour.

But once the sun dips below the horizon the cold creeps back in.  Wood smoke curls its way into the air, fragrant and comforting. There are still stacks of wood alongside most houses, ready for the variable weather ahead. Galahs and cockatoos swoop and pirouette in the air above, probably keen for the spring growth to provide some variety after winter pickings. Kookaburras gather in the tall trees and laugh as the day fades away.

Are the seasons beginning to change in your neighbourhood?

[Photo: wattle in bloom]